Posts

Showing posts from July, 2008

The Marriage of True Minds (more fun than a swimming pool full of lobsters)

Image
The PW review of The Marriage of True Minds, Stephen Evans' quirky (and quixotic...and quick) debut novel caught my eye because I'm starting a memoir project with a lawyer who used to share a practice with her attorney ex-husband. A lawyer's life is embroiled in conflict as a matter of course, so two lawyers who deserve each other, for better or worse...it's fertile ground. Evans ran with that dynamic, casting two passionate, engaging characters into the scenario, providing them with pitch-perfectly audible Noel Coward dialogue, which is what really makes this book work for me -- the author gives good banter. Even when actions are over the top, the talk rings true. I read it on the red-eye from Houston to LA last week, and it was well-worth the lost sleep.

From the press kit:
The story of a crossed love that is star to every wandering bark. Together as husband and wife, Nick Ward and Lena Grant ran a successful boutique law firm in Minneapolis, vanquishing all their lega…

Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Image
One of the most virulent self-sabotaging viruses with which I inject myself is this compulsion to post-mortem meetings, parties, and conversations with my agent, editors, and memoir clients. Did I say the right thing? Did I talk too much? Did I sound too Southern? Southern enough? Was I supposed to eat the broccoli florets or were they a garnish? Should I email the hostess and explain that thing I said about not liking cats because what if she used to have a cat to which she was particularly attached and it was hit by a car driven by some jackass compassionless writer who boorishly eats garnishes and says whatever pops into her head at cocktail parties?

As a writer by profession and a hermit by nature, I've come to accept the fact that I am socially retarded. I try to mitigate by not drinking alcohol at parties or lunches. (So much healthier to drink alone late at night with only dogs to witness my pathetique.) I don't try to fake a more Midwestern accent or try to fake anythin…

Katrina and Katy Reckdahl: a writer becomes the story

In the midst of Hurricane Katrina, Katy Reckdahl was at her most creative -- having a baby in a New Orleans hospital. Here she talks about her experience and the book City Adrift.

Back to the salt mine! (a few thoughts on the workaday world)

My son is starting a new job today, operating a roller coaster. (Must...avoid...rim shot...aaagh!) A lot of ups and downs, all right? There! I said it!

The pay is lousy, but he has free passes to the amusement park, and any time he complains about the heat or the feet, I'll remind him that his grandfather once had a job baling cock roaches, then launch into lecture #1432: "Mom's Checkered Employment History." By the time I was 25, I'd been employed as a doo wop singer, dishwasher, answering service operator, funeral home receptionist, butcher, baker, candlestick maker--you name it. As a recovering theatre major I had to grab a paycheck wherever I could, but those odd jobs blessed me with more than money. In fact, the lowest paying positions were often the most enriching.

Working the bar rush shift at the Embers Restaurant instilled a lifelong respect for those who serve and taught me the difference between humility and humiliation. Even at fifteen I recognized tha…

Sunday Quote: The Writer as Prostitute?

Image
“Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.”

-- Moliere



This quote has always cracked me up, but I think it's hogwash. Because when the writer falls out of love with the process and the written word, it always shows, and eventually, folks stop paying for her favors.

Enjoy a moment in the Octopus's Garden

Because we all need to take ourselves a little less seriously on Saturday. (And don't miss the universal truth about some book critics at the tag end.)

Stripped Bare

Image
The word "stripped" has a different meaning to the novelist than most people, with both positive and negative connotations. Allow me to elaborate.

First of all, the pressure to produce, and produce on a deadline, strips bare the author's self-defenses. Daily writing, in particular, and concentrated immersion into the story world, tears away normal inhibition and allows the writer to find deeper story, meatier characterization, and enhanced creativity. The comfortable safety zone of writing "when the muse calls" and one's schedule permits can't come close to duplicating this result.

On the eve of the book's release, the writer becomes acutely aware of his/her nakedness in print. My fourteenth release will be out this coming Tuesday, and I've been almost as nervous as I was for my first. Because like the primitive who believes that something of his soul is captured in a photo, the author knows a fragment of the inner self lies exposed and trembling…

Anatomy of a headache

Image
Within the last week or so, Colleen and I have both been laid low for a day or more by migraine headaches. I'd had them several times a year since I was a kid, then I went through chemo and went for seven years without one. The first one I had after that lovely respite felt like such a betrayal! I felt the karmic debt I'd paid during cancer treatment should function as a lifetime "Get Out of Migraine Free" card, but no. I lay on the bathroom floor weeping more from rage than pain. Because pain I could handle. I'd learned to deal with pain because...wait a minute...the vague realization came to me through the haze of searing pain:

That that is is.

My oncologist taught me something during chemo that I've since applied to migraine -- well, not relief exactly, but copiness. "Understanding and acceptance," she said, "physically defuse the body's sympathetic response to pain."

Here's the way it's explained on MedicineNet.com:
A migraine…

"A Philistine blunder": the LA Times Book Review is no more

Image
Hard to preface this with anything other than...well, this sucks. Served up lukewarm in Publishers Lunch today is a letter by former LA Times Book Review editors Steve Wasserman, Sonja Bolle, Digby Diehl, and Jack Miles responding to the news that the Los Angeles Times is folding its standalone Sunday book review section, laying off two dedicated book editors, and shlumping book reviews in with the Calendar section.

The letter asserts that without the review section, the LA Times Festival of Books will be "a hollow joke" and goes on to say:
To be sure, no section of any newspaper can remain hostage to past ways of covering the news of the day. We are convinced, however, that the way forward is to increase coverage of our literary culture -- a culture that every day is more vibrant and diverse in the thriving megalopolis of Los Angeles.

Angelenos in growing number are already choosing to cancel their subscriptions to the Sunday Times. The elimination of the Book Review, a philis…

Fiction Prescription: Gagging the Self-Censor

Image
Yesterday, I had this thought for my W-I-P that slapped up against a hard-and-fast "rule" I'd made for my own writing. "You can't possibly do that," I thought. "It'll be lame and hokey and... well, maybe perfect."

But the "lame-and-hokey" threat held me back, until I realized I was self-censoring. Then I did what I sometimes do when trying something that feels "risky." I created a separate file (I don't know why, but this gives my permission to try something completely different) and started fooling around with this idea in a commitment-phobic, no-strings manner.

Once I decided I had something (which took awhile; the first few attempts were flashing-neon awful) I copied and pasted the new sections into the manuscript. For now, I think they work and work well. Later, when I have a completed manuscript, I'll solicit opinions (from test readers and my editors), and either leave the sections in, edit, or remove them. But …

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words...dang.

Sunday Morning Quote:Kingsolver on Closing the Door

"Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer."

Barbara Kingsolver


Hear, hear!

Another great review for Colleen's Triple X

Image
Yeah, I'd say Colleen definitely has, as stated below, gotten her groove back. Fresh Fiction stacked another great review on the soon-to-be-released (and already shipping online) Triple Exposure:
Triple Exposure is the fantastic, fast-paced romantic thriller we've come to expect from a master storyteller as talented as Colleen Thompson. She always satisfies her readers by delivering unique characters, a spellbinding plot and a passionate love affair. Triple Exposure is jam- packed with enough loop-de-loops to keep you guessing, enough sizzle to make your palms sweat and an ending you have to read to believe. You don't want to miss this one!
Publisher's Weekly chimes in:
Thompson (The Salt Maiden) packs this well-paced thriller full of twists and the local color of a small Texas town...The red herrings are exquisitely placed, and the climax will surprise even the most jaded of suspense readers.
Gofightwin Colleen!

How Colleen Got Her Groove Back

Image
Feeling much better about life and the W-I-P yesterday and this morning. It turns out one of the best antidotes to an attack of inner critic is a little R&R. So I jettisoned my daily page count Thursday, instead read a rollicking, hilarious novel (Seth Greenland's SHINING CITY is every bit as much fun as its uber-cool video teaser implies), slept in, met critique partners for coffee and happy-yaps, shopped a little, wrote a little, cooked a bit, and watched THE CLOSER (on DVR) with the Fireman, and slept in once again.

This morning the Fireman brought me glasses, tea, and the newspaper... in bed (gotta love him) and guess what? My well has refilled. The snarled mess of a plot has untangled in my brain, and the harpy is as last quiescent.

And I cannot wait to get back to the book and make this sucker happen.

All this is not to say that I can afford to indulge myself every time the grind gets to me. But once in a while, it's just the thing to put a writer back on track.

So what…

Won't you be my neighbor? (Brazos Bookstore's new loyalty program)

Image
To be truthful, I have mixed feelings about Brazos Bookstore. As a reader, I think it's Nirvana, of course. But as a hometown writer who's never been shown one speck of love by them in ten years and seven books...well, I have to say they suck like those stupid stupid boys who never asked me out in high school probably because they were intimidated by how smart I was. In any case, I have to hand it to Brazos that they do an amazing job of not only surviving but thriving while more and more independent booksellers wither and die.

So what makes Brazos different? For starters, the author events. They've trained, nurtured, and husbanded a growing audience for both big name and emerging author events. So many stores completely blow off that opportunity. Midlist novelists are an endangered species these days, and what little hope we have of survival is hinged to stores like Brazos. Their web site is a little lumpy, but it offers the opportunity to buy books online from an indie. G…

Gofightwin Cheno! (My homegirl is up for an Emmy!)

Image
Gotta shout out (woooot!) to my friend, Kristin Chenoweth, who received an Emmy nomination this morning for the supporting role of Olive Snook in the wonderfully quirky dramedy series Pushing Daisies. Having spent the last few months working with Kristin on her forthcoming memoir, A Little Bit Wicked (Simon & Schuster, April 2009), I can tell you there's not a sweeter soul in Hollywood. Kristin's an amazing talent (girlfriend's got a Theatre BA and MFA in Opera Performance) and the hardest working woman I know. While you're waiting for the book, here's a little Snook:

The Inner Critic Strikes Back

Image
As I've mentioned here before, I regularly do battle with my inner critic. The foul-mouthed, ego-eviscerating harpy won't stay vanquished but simply chews through the scold's bridle I use to silence her for a time and shrieks a chorus of "you-sucks" in my ear.

Well, she's back, clearly sensing a weak moment, with the uncertainty of a new release just around the corner and the painful, full-body slam I've just done against the wall of my latest work in progress. (Invariably, I do this at the 3/4 mark, with a deadline on the horizon. Oddly, the fact that I think every single book is an irredeemable pile of crap at this point in the writing process can't save me from sleepless nights with that damned harpy shrieking in my ear.)

Am I alone in this? I doubt it. I know a lot of authors, count many of them among my best friends, and I can't tell you how many have confided that they fight fear and self-flagellation from time to time. Comes with the territo…

Driving Sideways: Jess Riley debuts with a lot of heart...and a kidney

Image
Jess Riley's debut novel Driving Sideways was a long time coming, but when it busted out, it busted out big. Buzz has been widespread and book-club friendly. Within weeks of its release, Driving Sideways was off to a second printing.

Right away, when I visited Jess's web site, I had to love this refreshing PR bio:
Wisconsin native Jess Riley spent much of her childhood sitting at her desk during lunch hour for lying and/or passing notes during class, both of which qualified her for a possible future as a novelist. Between bad haircuts, she wrote poetry and fiction in middle school. She was nominated by a high school English teacher to attend a summer camp for budding artists and writers, where she realized she needed a whole new wardrobe. Also, she needed to work on her creative writing skills. She won her first short story contest a year later for a tale told through the point of view of a seven year-old black boy living in Cabrini Green because as a middle-class white teenage…

The Outsider's On-Ramp to Publication

Image
Once upon a time, I was a writer like most writers learning my craft in a vacuum. I put in the sweat equity, wrote a ton of pages, even read a lot. But I had no clue how my work fit with the market. When I worked up my nerve to submit things, the form rejection slips came.

Later, I started attending writer's workshops and the occasional small conference. I entered and did well in contests. I began to focus my reading a little more in my chosen genre (fantasy at the time, then young adult), but I still had no idea about such rudimentary things as how long a manuscript should be, who was buying what, etc. At this point, I received more personalized rejections and even hooked up with a reputable agent. But still, I couldn't sell.

Finally, at one local conference, I listened to a couple of romance author speakers, along with a romance editor. They all seemed to know so much about the realities of publishing that I was incredibly impressed, and mind you, I went to the sessions with a…

Gimme some sugar (Hilary Liftin on love and Junior Mints)

Image
I've been on a quest to find other writers doing the celebrity memoir thing. Networking, and all that. But also just curious. Currently kicking butt on the NYT bestseller list is the new Tori Spelling book, co-authored by Hilary Liftin, who got started the same way I did -- writing her own memoir. Hilary's Candy and Me was called "lovely and lyrical" by Vanity Fair. USA Today said "delightful; a hilarious, counterintuitive romp through stacks of Necco Wafers, Smarties, Snickers and Jelly Bellies."

"Hilary Liftin’s lifelong love affair with candy shapes all her relationships," saith the PR, "from her family and friends to her ultimate choice of a mate. Through life’s ups and downs, candy is a constant that sustains her. In Candy and Me, her life unfolds in a series of bittersweet revelations and restorative meditations—from a forgettable fling with Skittles to a mature, committed relationship with Bottle Caps."

Here's a bit of Hilary…

Sunday Quote:Lewis on Originality

Image
"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."

-- C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

Holding Back

Image
Not so long ago, I had an interesting conversation with my agent regarding beginning an interconnected series as opposed to reinventing the universe with each stand-alone novel. For the record, I prefer the stand-alone, with perhaps the occasional cameo from a prior, often secondary character, but I was tempted to veer from the plan and work on a true series. She gave me some advice that really resonated for me.

Don't ever start out to write a series, she said. When writers do that, I find they tend to hold back, saving the good stuff for the future books. The problem is, there won't be any future books if you don't pour every ounce of energy, every good idea, into what you're writing. If readers respond, you can always find some way to continue. But if readers shrug their shoulders and move onto the next book, your "series" is already done before its started.
So as you settle in to work this week, ask yourself, am I holding too tightly to the reins of my imagi…

Revisiting Aristotle on the art of plot (your continuing education credit for today)

Image
During a running dialogue on the difference between the crafting of a novel and the crafting of a screenplay (which are really not as different as I thought), a friend reminded me that Aristotle laid down some very simple rules about plot in his Poetics. I remembered studying Poetics in college as a theatre major because much of it is taken up with the idea of imitation and drama, but revisiting Aristotle last night as a world-weary novelist a whole lot of years away from my idealistic artiste theatre days -- well, it rang bells all over the place.

"There should be copies on your desk and your night table and another one in your glove compartment," said my friend. "He wrote down what the rules of drama are. If something isn't working in a script, chances are it's because you're breaking one of those rules without realizing it. Figure out how you're breaking the rule and you can get the car moving again."

Quoth Aristotle:
The plot, then, is the first pr…

Trusting the Magic

Image
I've been forging ahead on a contracted novel lately even though I've known it's missing a key element, some critical bit of backstory that forms a linchpin needed to hold the whole darned book together. A while back, this would have stopped me dead, and I have to admit that even now, it's still bugged me because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't come up with anything that "felt" right. Nothing even close, and as the pages began to mount up, I started to get this sinking feeling that I'd reach the end and still not be able to come up with an answer that felt just out of reach, like one of those maddening words on the tip of the tongue.

But I have this deadline looming, so I kept forging ahead because I've learned to trust the magic that lets me write a book without really understanding how. I've learned to trust in the mystery of good ideas, which come from heaven only knows where. I'm afraid if I ever looked into the process too close…

"Nobody knows anything" and other true stuff said by William Goldman

Image
I'm reading Adventures in the Screen Trade by novelist/screenwriter William Goldman, who wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, among other things.

Among the very true things he says:
“Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before. And although you are physically by yourself, the haunting Demon never leaves you, that Demon being the knowledge of your own terrible limitations, your hopeless inadequacy, the impossibility of ever getting it right. No matter how diamond-bright your ideas are dancing in your brain, on paper they are earthbound.”

Selling It Starts Here

Image
This past Saturday as part of a session designed to help aspiring authors become more comfortable with the idea, I "played" an acquiring N.Y. editor and took book pitches at my local writers' group. My "character" was a twenty-something (somebody shouted "Makeup!" Smartass) editorial assistant eager to find new talent for (and raise herself above the bottom employment rung of) a large publisher of popular mass market paperback fiction. She was bright, motivated, nervous about hurting anybody's feelings (it was her first time hearing pitches), and a little freaked to realize she was younger (it's called *acting,* people) than any of the writers. A nice person, she was eager to help those pitching, which is a quality I've found in many of the editors I've met in pitch sessions.

But she needed help from those writers she was meeting. She needed ammunition she could take back to the scary senior editor and the marketing department to help s…

Joni's Sunday sermon: God loved me enough to lock me in a bathroom in the Hollywood Hills.

Image
My life has been excessively strange lately. In the course of working my memoir guru mojo for a truly delightful client, I’ve made the acquaintance of an important (iconic, really) writer/producer who has for some odd reason decided that we should be friends. He’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Generous, kind, whipsaw funny, scary smart. (He’s also endearingly geeky. Friday night, while the fireworks were going on, he wanted to tell us about the little known history of the Declaration of Independence, and tragically, I was geeky enough to want to hear it.)

I enjoy conversing with him, but his famousness is weird. Distracting. Intimidating. Every time I say his name, I’m reminded that he’s this intimidating famous guy, so I’ve taken to calling him “Studs Mulligan”.

Friday, since the 4th was my client's only day off this millennium, Mulligan hosted the final read-through of the manuscript at his place – an ultra-moderne but not grossly huge house on a hill overlooki…

Saturday cartoon: Lucas Reed on the origin of ideas

Carson Mell's freaky imagery and some not-totally-work-safe thoughts on inspiration.

BtO Rewind: Four for the Fourth

Image
Though this was first posted on 7/04/2007, I think it bears repeating:

On the Fourth of July, it seems appropriate to say Happy Birthday, USA, and to list four reasons I'm grateful, not only as a human being but as a writer, to live in this country.

1. Creativity is valued. From Hollywood to Nashville to New York, writers are valued for, if nothing else, their contribution to commerce. Whether the world loves or hates this country, its contribution to entertainment can't be denied.
2. By and large, the government leaves writers alone. There's no hit squad that shows up at your door after midnight and drags you off, never to be seen again, if you're critical of the regime du jour. No religious police will have you stoned or branded or run you out of the country should your work be deemed "sinful".
3. America gets the power of a dream. We're a nation that takes its dreamers more seriously than most, a country that understands that no matter a person's gende…

Frightening, Schmightening

Image
One of the things that cracks me up about writing scary romantic suspense is that some people have started to think *I'm* personally pretty frightening. Sure, I tend to imagine heads rolling about in trunks, look at every new piece of hardware I encounter as a potential murder weapon, and devise a lot of foul demises, but in reality I'm a super-caffeinated bunny of a wimpster who's scared to watch the evening news for few of nightmares. My fears don't end there, either, but include such things as falling/downhill skiiing (for me, these amount to the same thing anyhow), large crowds, dancing in public, and waking up to find the Burger King's creepy plastic face looking down at me. (Freaks me out just thinking about that!) Probably, I'm able to scare others *because* I can easily imagine and describe my fears in vivid detail and not because I'm immune to chill-bumps.

My main man Alfred Hitchcock put it this way:

My good luck in life was to be a really frightene…

Summer Gadget Alert: Targus Chill Pad

Image
I'm one of those folks who's most comfortable working with my laptop computer on my lap instead of a hard surface, but after a while, the heat gets to me, especially in Houston's sweltering summers. So lately, I've taken to using the Targus Chill Pad, which plugs into a USB port and runs two bitty fans beneath the computer. It's light-weight plastic (i.e. kind of flimsy), and the first one I ordered was DOA, but when I contacted Targus, they replaced it with one I've used nonstop for months now.

I give the unit a thumbs up. Though it's a bit of a pain to move around (I have to remember to lift it from the bottom when moving my computer), it does what it's designed to do.

Anyone else have a favorite writing/computing gadget to share?

Cooking with Colleen

Image
This spring and summer, I've been following a recipe. A recipe I spent much of the winter crafting. I've listed my ingredients, know the preparation steps. I have what some would consider a good deal of experience cooking up this sort of dish, which happens to be another romantic thriller.

Yet I keep finding myself, as always, tinkering. I stick my spoon into the batter, make a face at the taste, and alter the components. Characters are added, deleted, and combined. Plot elements evolve, collapse, connect. At the halfway point, I have a lot of strong scenes, but the sum total doesn't hang together, and the ending I envisioned, no way that's going to fly.

And that's all as it should be, for a novel's not a cake mix. It's more of a Frankenstein, cobbled together from so many different parts to form a new and living entity. With luck and skill and a little of the pixie dust that causes the willing suspension of disbelief, the writer can disguise the lines where…